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Scholar examines food, race and US presidency at Gantt Center
Adrian Miller dishes on the White House kitchen
Published Friday, February 8, 2019 11:34 am
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Author Adrian Miller headlines “The Soul Food Scholar: Adrian Miller’s Tales of a White House Kitchen” Feb. 12.

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Food facilitated change beyond the White House for centuries.

James Beard Award winner Adrian Miller’s studies of the relationships between African Americans who served in the presidential kitchen and the presidents themselves offers a unique perspective on the nation’s evolution. Miller will speak on the subject at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for an event titled “The Soul Food Scholar: Adrian Miller’s Tales of a White House Kitchen” on Feb. 12 from 6-8 p.m. The evening will examine Miller’s books “The President’s Kitchen Cabinet” and “Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine,” Q&A with Miller, book signing and sampling presidential recipes made by Charlotte Chef Greg Collier.

“I want people to take away this unique window on the American presidency, and how African Americans have been in the presidential kitchen from day one, how they were celebrated in their time as culinary artists,” Miller said. “Also, how in many ways they were civil rights heroes because they gave our presidents a window on black life that they may not have had otherwise.  Now whether those presidents chose to open that window or not was up to them, but still that window was available.”

Miller intends to highlight a few stories from his book, such as Hercules, a slave who cooked for George Washington, James Hemings, an older brother of Sally Hemings, who was also enslaved. He cooked for Thomas Jefferson.

“I’ll also talk about Dolly Johnson, who was a free woman who cooked for Benjamin Harrison,” Miller said.

Miller will also examine relationships, such as Daisy Bonner and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as well as Zephyr Wright and Lyndon B. Johnson.

“Zephyr Wright is an interesting figure, because her Jim Crow experiences aided Johnson in his lobbying efforts for the 1964 Civil Rights Act,” Miller said.

While Miller’s talk includes a bit of history lesson, it will tie into the present day, while also questioning what the future of the White House kitchen will be.

A key theme throughout Miller’s research is the way in which food humanizes everyone.

“These cooks were the ones who were often called on not to only nourish [the president], but to give them a sense of comfort in a very challenging job, and a very challenging environment,” Miller said. “That’s why so many of these cooks were people who worked previously for the president before they became president. Through all of these dynamics and relationships, I think it reveals the humanity not only of the cooks, but of the presidents as well, because often food serves as a window into the presidential soul. By finding out what kind of food they liked and the interaction, I think you get a better feel for these first families as people.”


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